The Real Geek Squad

Interesting piece in the NY Times about physicists and the Wall Street meltdown worth reading, a topic we have covered several times. Buried within is this nugget:

Physicists began to follow the jobs from academia to Wall Street in the late 1970s, when the post-Sputnik boom in science spending had tapered off and the college teaching ranks had been filled with graduates from the 1960s. The result, as Dr. Derman said, was a pipeline with no jobs at the end. Things got even worse after the cold war ended and Congress canceled the Superconducting Supercollider, which would have been the world’s biggest particle accelerator, in 1993.

They arrived on Wall Street in the midst of a financial revolution. Among other things, galloping inflation had made finances more complicated and risky, and it required increasingly sophisticated mathematical expertise to parse even simple investments like bonds. Enter the quant.

The SSC only cost a couple of billion, and by comparison, seems pretty cheap.






113 replies
  1. 1
    Billy K (D-TX) says:

    I read that and I can’t help but blame the Large Hadron Collider for our current troubles.

  2. 2
    Betsy says:

    The academic pipeline for graduate students with no jobs at the end is a huge problem, and is worse in the humanities (though we don’t usually go on to wreak havoc on the world economy). They simply admit way more PhD candidates than there are jobs for us at the end. It’s worse now, with the recession, but it’s been true for many years. Universities are cutting back on faculty positions, which means they take in more grad students as cheap teaching labor, which means there are more PhDs produced for fewer jobs. For starry-eyed incoming students, though, they rarely spell this out in advance; you learn it once you’ve already sunk several years of your life into it. It’s unconscionable.

    There was an article in the Chronicle recently that found that graduate students have rates of depression many times that of the population at large, and this is a big part of the reason why.

  3. 3

    "They arrived on Wall Street in the midst of a financial revolution."-The New York Times

    The revolution started on August 15th, 1971, when Nixon closed the gold window, to help fund the war effort. But the New York Times, dutifully, blames the revolution on cuts in government programs. The New York Times probably will not make it through 2009.

    The Federalist Papers are very good, in contrast to the New York Times. In Number 10, James Madison concludes:

    "A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State."

    James Madison was pretty sharp. The Federalist Papers are highly recommended reading.

  4. 4
    Ned R. says:

    What Betsy said. I was a grad from 1992 to 1996, and was lucky enough to have been on a full fellowship during that time and, after some admittedly stressful final months, be able to leave grad school with no regrets and, importantly, no debt. Since I wasn’t driven to be a professor in the end, that helped.

    But even then, especially in the shadow of the early 90s recession, things were bad on the overproduction front. The talk was constant and people were a bit gloomy about it all. One of the saddest/funniest moments came when I passed by two grad colleagues sitting in the lounge and all of a sudden one put down her papers and said to the other person, "Do you ever feel like you’re in the world’s most expensive cab-driver training school?"

    Now feels a lot worse.

  5. 5
    Cat Lady says:

    Well, I guess it took particle physicists to get us into this black hole. Maybe rocket scientists and brain surgeons can get us out.

  6. 6
    Rick Taylor says:

    I’m a mathematician. People have told me I could make a lot of money being a "quant." Not anymore, I’d wager.

  7. 7
    Ricky Bobby says:

    So waitaminute…

    Betting the farm on a shiny mathematical model WASN’T a good idea?

    The problem with mathy models in finance: They presuppose logic. We have all seen that the world markets move on emotion.

    Ooooops…

  8. 8
    Napoleon says:

    @Billy K (D-TX):

    I read that and I can’t help but blame the Large Hadron Collider for our current troubles.

    Well they did say it was going to blow up the world. Who know they meant the world economy.

  9. 9
    beltane says:

    And to think if all these minds had been put to use developing alternative energy. We have been making stupid decisions for decades now; I wonder if we’ll ever be able to dig ourselves out from the big pile of stupid we have covered ourselves with.

  10. 10
    blackfrancis says:

    @Betsy: my S.O. , a recently minted Ph.D recently got an adjunct job in the Boston area. While she ponders her career direction and notices the lack of tenure track positions open, she picks up adjunct work. For this position (one course) there were 75 applicants, and this is not a school I would even bother to mention.

  11. 11
    DougJ says:

    I’m a mathematician.

    Good Lord, there’s a lot of us on this blog.

  12. 12
    Ned R. says:

    The other day the NYT ran a story about humanities grads and current travails:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03.....ad.html?em

    …which in turn reminded me of the work of Thomas Benton and a piece from the Chronicle a couple of months back:

    Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go

  13. 13
    SpotWeld says:

    I’m a mathematician.

    Good Lord, there’s a lot of us on this blog.

    Don’t look at me man, I got out with a M.Eng in aerospace.

  14. 14
    Comrade Stuck says:

    Well, I guess it took particle physicists to get us into this black hole

    I recall reading something a while back, how some of these math whiz kids were playing with models to predict the future worth of derivatives, at least on a theoretical basis. Then some MBA Crocodile type money managers found them and decided they were manna from heaven and bet the farm. And ipso fatso here we be on our financial deathbeds, the grim victims of an experiment gone bad. Somebody please correct if this wrong.

  15. 15
    Rick Taylor says:

    Josh Marshall gives just about the best short summary I’ve seen of where we’re at and what the question is. I tried to figure out how to quote it, but the whole thing needs to be read. It’s short. Here’s the ending:

    I’ve been increasingly mystified and frustrated, bordering on angry, over recent days as I realized that the assumption behind all the would-be financial sector fixes is that the bondholders — i.e., the creditors of the big financial institutions, the folks who lent them money — should take at most a nominal hit, even though they lent money to companies that in every real sense of the word went bankrupt. And the money to pay them off has to come from American taxpayers.

    I was expected to hear some basic skepticism about this assumption from the economists I spoke to. But I didn’t. They agreed that the danger was just too great, notwithstanding the unfairness to the taxpayer. And most of the fear stems back to what happened to the global credit markets after the collapse of Lehman Brothers last fall.

    Now, as to RB’s point, I think he’s got a big part of the equation right. Having the bondholders take a substantial hit seems too scary to contemplate to these folks. The amount of money you’d need to make everyone whole just looks politically unfeasible. So it’s very hard to know just where to go.

    What it all amounts to is that the bondholders have a gun to the head of the world economy. But it’s a real gun. And it may be loaded.

    Who knows …

  16. 16
    Dr. Steve says:

    I was a former college professor in sociology till I left academia two years ago. Grad school was mostly misery and half-way through when I wanted to get out I realized that there was no viable solution other than pushing on for the PhD.

    Tim Burke at "Easily Distracted" has the best answer for students considering grad school in the humanities. I would say that most of this applies to social sciences and increasingly the sciences too.

    Tim Burke’s Blog here.

  17. 17
    Zifnab says:

    @DougJ: Cheers to that!

  18. 18
    gypsy howell says:

    Science schmience. Why should America invest in scientific research? Everyone knows the real growth industry in the past few decades has been right wing televangelism. The bible’s gonna solve all our problems.

    And tax cuts. Also.

  19. 19
    over_educated says:

    Shorter bondholders: "That’s a nice global economy you have there. It would be a shame if something bad happened to it…"

  20. 20
    Roger Moore says:

    @Ned R.:

    One of the saddest/funniest moments came when I passed by two grad colleagues sitting in the lounge and all of a sudden one put down her papers and said to the other person, "Do you ever feel like you’re in the world’s most expensive cab-driver training school?"

    There’s an old joke along these same lines. Getting a Doctorate in Philosophy prepares you to ask those all important questions that everyone wants an answer to. Why are we here? How can an omnipotent God allow evil to exist? Would you like fries with that?

  21. 21
    Comrade Stuck says:

    And if I would have read the full article Cole linked to, I wouldn’t have made such a lame comment.

  22. 22
    gopher2b says:

    You forget to carry one 1 and the whole thing goes down the crapper.

    Truthfully, there was an interesting article by the guy who wrote Liar’s Poker about a year ago detailing how mathematicians caused this whole mess. They built all these formulas that told financial guys what to do (you know the former football players that work at CNBC and Lehman Bros) in all these different situations. EXCEPT they forgot to account for a catastrophic decline. When that happened, everyone was trading into the spiral (because that is what their laminated card told them to do) and POOF, pop goes the weasel.

  23. 23
    Rheinhard says:

    With an M.Sc in Physics now working as an aerospace related software engineer, I kind of feel I may have missed the possible boat on all those Wall Street monies. But, while my salary is certainly lower than the Wall Street wonders, I think right now I have rather more job security.

  24. 24
    John PM says:

    I have a good friend from law school who received a Ph.D in Intellectual History from the University of Chicago in the mid-1990s. There were no jobs in academia, so he decided to try architecture school, which he left after one year because he decided he did not like architects. However, he did end up teaching a history of architecture class for a couple years. He then went to law school. He did litigation for about two years and then started his own consulting firm concentrating on construction related issues. The consulting business is actually doing quite well. I think he would have been a great college professor, but he is happy with what he is doing. He is a great conversationalist and very knowledgeable about food and wine. Academia’s loss is my gain, because had he become a professor I would not have had the opportunity to meet him.

    BTW, I saw a story this morning in the ABA Journal that most big law firms will soon be forced to cut first-year associates salaries to $144,000 from $160,000. In my opinion, this is still about $100,000 too high for people just out of law school. Yet another sign of how screwed up our economy has been over the past decade.

  25. 25
    Walker says:

    They simply admit way more PhD candidates than there are jobs for us at the end.

    This is why I am more comfortable being in a CS department these days than when I was in a mathematics department. In computer science we have a well-defined job pipeline for PhDs (YahoogleSoft, plus start-up companies). Mathematics PhDs kill each other to get a job at a SLAC earning less than a high school teacher makes. I don’t even want to think about what it is like among the humanities these days.

    Universities love to have PhD programs because they are necessary to pull in the major grant monies (unless you are an R1, the NSF isn’t going to give you anything but meager education grants). But I have seen a number of places over the years that say "let’s have a PhD program" without thinking about the market for their graduates.

    Heck, these days, I am worried about placing my undergraduates.

  26. 26
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    "But even in mostly hostile territory, Coulter was no shrinking violet. When moderate Mark Halperin brought up Meghan McCain’s swipes of Coulter on The Daily Beast from earlier in the day…"

    Sorry, OT, but on what planet is Mark Halperin a moderate? I mean besides Planet Politico.

  27. 27
    liberal says:

    @gopher2b:

    EXCEPT they forgot to account for a catastrophic decline.

    It’s worse than that, because the fundamentals of the housing market showed that the market was certainly way overvalued, hence a decline would be likely, not some low-probability event.

    Yes, "fat tails," blah blah blah. My point is that this wasn’t even a tail.

    Bottom line re these models: garbage in, garbage out.

  28. 28
    Walker says:

    @DougJ:

    Good Lord, there’s a lot of us on this blog.

    We noticed this back in your spoofing days. I remember Demondian commenting on this in some thread.

  29. 29
    Betsy says:

    @blackfrancis: Mine is hoping for a $3000/semester/per class adjunct position at a decent enough private college to hold him over while we both go on the market next year. When I found out that was how much he would get paid for designing and teaching his own class, I was absolutely flabbergasted. It comes out to $600 a month. I don’t even want to break it down by hour. I’m still clinging to the hope that he or I or both will be able to get t-t jobs next year, as we’re graduating from a fancy-pants school with big-name advisors, but I’m not counting on it. Sigh. At least I haven’t gone into debt for this useless degree.

    @Ned R.: Too bad I didn’t have articles like this when I was a bright-eyed 23 year old!

  30. 30
    Martin says:

    And yet there are so many engineering jobs out there that we have to import talent, yet most universities in the US won’t fund their engineering programs adequately to meet the demand.

  31. 31
    Cat Lady says:

    @John PM:

    BTW, I saw a story this morning in the ABA Journal that most big law firms will soon be forced to cut first-year associates salaries to $144,000 from $160,000. In my opinion, this is still about $100,000 too high for people just out of law school. Yet another sign of how screwed up our economy has been over the past decade.

    I’ve worked (until last month) at law firms for the past 12 years. First year associates’ shit smells like ice cream, they’re told, so they may start the revolution when they’re told that it doesn’t.

  32. 32
    Josh Hueco says:

    OT, and maybe this has already been covered, but native Okie Land Grabber Chuck Norris says that he may run for President of Texas.

  33. 33
    Walker says:

    @Betsy:

    Mine is hoping for a $3000/semester/per class adjunct position at a decent enough private college to hold him over while we both go on the market next year. When I found out that was how much he would get paid for designing and teaching his own class, I was absolutely flabbergasted. It comes out to $600 a month.

    At my previous university, we paid $2500 a semester to adjuncts. And we were the market leader in our area.

    The problem is that good people take adjunct positions thinking that it will get their foot in the door. But if good people keep taking these positions, then why should the school bother to pay real money for a faculty line? 15k a year with no benefits versus salary and benefits for a regular professor? Yes, you need permanent faculty to give the students someone to interact with outside of class, but that is a much smaller demand than covering courses.

    Furthermore, adjuncting is career death. A visiting position looks fine on a CV, but adjuncting (without a damn good reason, like a second full time job) is death; I say this as someone who has run faculty searches.

  34. 34
    flounder says:

    I need to find a way to sell Geologists as having the answers for Wall Street, then laugh my way to the bank…or is that laugh my way away from the bank?

  35. 35
    Roger Moore says:

    @Walker:

    Mathematics PhDs kill each other to get a job at a SLAC earning less than a high school teacher makes.

    Unless they can get a security clearance. In that case, they go to work for No Such Agency to work on cryptography. Seriously, the NSA employs something like half of the Math PhDs in the country.

  36. 36
    Punchy says:

    Congress canceled the Superconducting Supercollider

    In all due defense of Congress, as much as I love science, wasn’t this thing like 8 gazillion percent over budget, or some such crazy shit?

  37. 37
    Dork says:

    Good Lord, there’s a lot of us on this blog.

    Seriously, DougJ, lose the laptop and learn yerself some London Love. You’re on vaca–unless you’re bloggin from your pho…..nope, nevermind. Still not an excuse.

    Enjoy the trip and we’ll see ya in a week or so.

  38. 38
    Walker says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Unless they can get a security clearance. In that case, they go to work for No Such Agency to work on cryptography. Seriously, the NSA employs something like half of the Math PhDs in the country.

    That’s true. I forgot about that (despite being called up for yet another background check just the other day).

    But there are many math PhDs that are not interested in that lifestyle.

  39. 39
    DecidedFenceSitter says:

    Betsy, I’m grateful for my adviser as an undergrad (in ’98) who looked at me and said "No you do not want a master’s degree." She laid out exactly what further education was about, what it needed, and what I would be going in there for.

    So I didn’t.

    I am back in for my graduate degree. But as a MBA concentrating in project management (Mostly organizational theory and transformation) and information security (I like computers, security, but not programming). Not bad for someone with a dual BA in English and Political Science.

    My undergrad program certainly left me well prepared for my graduate program. But going farther into either field? Hell fuckin’ no.

  40. 40
    Cat Lady says:

    @Walker:

    But there are many math PhDs that are not interested in that lifestyle.

    Good Will Hunting.

  41. 41
    scav says:

    mmm. apparently my so-called mis-spent career as a grad student mostly taught me to stare professors down and distinguish what I knew from what I didn’t and what I needed to know from what I didn’t. It was a lengthy career but has served me well since in a non-aca second career where I stare down business sorts, play with data, and refuse to stoop to management positions. Not the path they would have expected in either instance. Still, the groves as a large playground (with sharp edges) where you can learn to think and stare figures of authority down — not so bad.

  42. 42
    lawnorder says:

    Hehehe…

    We engineers always cautioned Physicists to not put too much faith in their math toys. If the equation seems to good to be true, it is!

    That Gaussian Copula function Wall Street has been using for the past couple of years was obviously limited by several binding conditions, and not intended to be used as a "fit all" formula.

    Not to mention that it had no provisions for market feedback messing with it.

  43. 43
    Gus says:

    Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go

    Wow, am I glad I traded the ivory tower dream for the rat race reality! I knew it was grim, but that’s just sad.

  44. 44
    Rick Taylor says:

    Matt Yglesias quotes Tom Friedmann quoting Joe Romm, whose web site is well worth visiting.

    “We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

    “You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

    As bad as our current predicament is, what we’re potentially facing over the next century is far worse. If the current crises wakes us up, it will have been worth it.

  45. 45
    gex says:

    @Betsy: Well it sure is good to see that our captains of industry have designed a system in which Americans are discouraged from getting the educations that will help this country lead the way in the future.

    Maybe we could still be the awesomest country in the world when we’re all Toby Keiths. How should we respond to global warming? Put a boot in its ass! What’s the solution to poverty in America? Put a boot in their asses. Don’t like the French or brown people? Boots-asses! 401k down because of investment bankers gambling? Insert boot firmly into asses. (Actually that one does sound good.)

    I think I have the hang of it. Now I will just return my B.S. in Computer Science, quit doing all this work that is less fashionable than simply owning things, and be a "real" American.

  46. 46
    Betsy says:

    @Walker: I agree entirely, and I’ve decided that I won’t work as an adjunct for more than a year, and then only under very specific circumstances. I would much rather leave academia than be in that position. The only reason my partner is doing it is because he had a finishing fellowship this year but didn’t go on the market (long story), and he’ll need to have some way to pay the bills while we both are on the market if his postdoc apps don’t pan out.

  47. 47
    lawnorder says:

    Oh link to a better article about quants: more math less fluff
    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/i.....ntPage=all

    It also shows the formula Wall Street treated as gospel.

  48. 48
    Betsy says:

    @Gus: I only recently realized that it’s called the ivory tower because the walls are too slippery to scale, and the closer you are to the top, the more it hurts when you land.

  49. 49
    Sister Machine Gun of Mild Harmony says:

    One of the saddest/funniest moments came when I passed by two grad colleagues sitting in the lounge and all of a sudden one put down her papers and said to the other person, "Do you ever feel like you’re in the world’s most expensive cab-driver training school?"

    Then why did they stay in the program? This is what I don’t get. For every graduate student who gets accepted to these useless programs, the universities are turning down 5 to 10 times as many students. How hard is it for a student with a BA to look into how many jobs are available in the field they are thinking of going into? They are adults at this point, aren’t they? Finding average salaries and rates of employment doesn’t take that much work. In my mind, the universities are meeting a demand and the students are failing to do the most basic due diligence about whether or not what they are buying is really what they want and need.

  50. 50

    The SSC only cost a couple of billion, and by comparison, seems pretty cheap.

    "Physicists create black hole in lab, falls to centre of Earth. Will be destroyed within a year, say experts."

    "President Obama announces plan to save Earth by shovelling dollar bills into maw of run-away singularity. Will pay for it by raising taxes on top 0.001% by 1% per annum."

    "Republicans scream ‘Socialism!’, vow to filibuster tax cuts for a decade at least. Dare President Obama to risk it."

  51. 51
    Dan says:

    Hi John. Off this topic, but on another one of your faves:

    "I don’t trust any numbers on them," said David Wyss, the chief economist for the New York credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s.

    Adding, "They’re all based on deeply corrupt appraisals made by the likes of Moody’s and…never mind."

  52. 52
  53. 53
    Martin says:

    Wow, am I glad I traded the ivory tower dream for the rat race reality! I knew it was grim, but that’s just sad.

    Do the math. You have a PhD/faculty ratio of about 5:1 at most institutions. A PhD takes 7 years to complete on average, so for each faculty position, they are turning out a replacement for themselves about every 17 months. Most tenured faculty stay in their positions for about 30 years, so over their career, they’re turning out about 21 replacements for that one job that they’ll open up when they retire.

    Sure, you have some job expansion, maybe 10% per year best possible case, so let’s take on of the 21 out of the searching pool. Even jumping down to non-PhD institutions, you’ll only find enough jobs for 3 more of those graduates. We’ve got 17 still to get jobs. You’re now down to community colleges where you are competing with MS/MA holders, and even down to K-12.

    Fueling this is that PhD institutions have to get near that 5:1 ratio to sustain themselves, so they’re determined to convince students to go this route for their own self-preservation. If there is little demand in industry/government, the system is set up to disappoint.

    Humanities is particularly challenging because there are so few alternate options for those graduates in the current economy.

  54. 54
    Cat Lady says:

    @The Moar You Know
    Shhh… don’t distract them from being distracted. Irrelevancy, thy name is Boehner.

  55. 55
    gopher2b says:

    @John PM:

    It’s not too high for people who also have $150,000 in debt. Kill the billable hour and everything else will fall in line (including a 60% reduction in the amount of people going into law school).

  56. 56
    Brandon T says:

    @Sister Machine Gun of Mild Harmony

    Finding average salaries and rates of employment doesn’t take that much work. In my mind, the universities are meeting a demand and the students are failing to do the most basic due diligence about whether or not what they are buying is really what they want and need.

    Have you ever tried to make sense of salary/employment data on jobs? It’s a good macro indicator, but unless you have a very specific, defined job position you’re thinking of, it’s difficult to know what to expect salarywise until you fall into a position. This is in addition to all the pressure that’s put on students during undergrad to "not worry about the employment prospects for your degree" and "do what you love".

    I’d be more sympathetic to the due diligence argument if there weren’t self-interested people/institutions pressuring the students at every stage to make the wrong decision…

  57. 57
    CJ says:

    @Walker: In the legal field, people do work as adjuncts to get their foot in the door, but they also do so as resume padding.

  58. 58
    Ned R. says:

    @Sister Machine Gun of Mild Harmony:

    Then why did they stay in the program?

    A bit melodramatic but to quote Macbeth:

    “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

    Not that grad school consists of butchery except of papers. But the larger point is one of commitment, that there’s a sense of ‘well I’ve gone THIS far…’

  59. 59
    aimai says:

    The oversupply in Ph.D’s in the humanities has been a problem *for ever*. I knew historians who had come up for jobs 15 years ago who told me there was 1 (One) opening in the country when they came up. I’m an anthropologist and given the fragmentation of the field–in which you have a subject matter (law and…) and an area studies focus (asia and…) the chances of there being more than one job for which you are a good match–hell, the chances that there will be any job for which you are a good match–are zero and have been for years. I want to second what the poster at @ # 33 said–there’s a caste system at work in academia that makes accepting anything less than a tenure track position the kiss of death. Once you go into adjuncting you are dead and will never get off that track. That has been true for obvious financial reasons, from the Universities point of view, b ut its also true from an ethnographic perspective. By which I mean that faculty searches, when they happen, subscribe to an almost caste system like focus on pedigree, purity, and pollution in which the individual applicant is measured not against the current standards of the current faculty but against an imaginary perfect standard from which the applicant can only fall short. And you start falling short immiediatly after you finish your degree in a way that mimics general western attitudes towards female sexuality. You are on a marriage market and you are declining in value according to the number of years you are available and the offers that have been made to you. Accept an offer of a low level position, or one at a second or third tier school, and your treatment is analagous to that of the girl who "gave it away" to the low status boy in highschool.

    to those who wonder why graduate students don’t see the handwriting on the wall. Well, people love what they are doing and love the idea of what they will do with their degrees and they are gamblers at heart. Lots of people see disaster in the making and think "I’ll be the lucky one." Its human nature.

    aimai

  60. 60
    jibeaux says:

    O/T but yesterday I predicted that since the "Dow 36,000" genius predicted that the markets would keep going down, they would probably go up. DJIA up today so far.

    I think I need to start following that guy. He’s like the anti Warren Buffett.

  61. 61

    Duh, the stock market really likes Obama’s education plan.

    Or is the stem cell policy?

    That’s how this works, right? The stock market is driven by how people feel about the president, right?

  62. 62

    It pleases me to no end that Joe The Plumber is probably pulling in $20,000 per speaking appearance and that Obama really is raising his taxes. Joe The Plumber is prescient, unlike the intellengencia who mocked him for making under $250k. I bet Joe is pulling in $500k.

    Perhaps he is divine.

  63. 63
    Xenos says:

    @John PM:

    BTW, I saw a story this morning in the ABA Journal that most big law firms will soon be forced to cut first-year associates salaries to $144,000 from $160,000. In my opinion, this is still about $100,000 too high for people just out of law school. Yet another sign of how screwed up our economy has been over the past decade.

    The problem with those jobs is that they were never $160,000 jobs. They just two $80,000 jobs given to one person, who was overworked to such a degree that it was expected that 80% would burn out and quit within five years. The profession as a whole would be far better off with the lower salaries you suggest.

  64. 64
    anonevent says:

    @Sister Machine Gun of Mild Harmony: As someone in that elitist cab training school, I am doing it because I want it. I hope to teach and do research afterward, but ultimately it’s about me having the degree.

    Has it cost me some? Yeah. I have three boys, and I’m sure there have been times where school has interfered with something I could be doing with them. Then again, I would be studying all the time even if I wasn’t in school, so it doesn’t change that much.

    Have I gotten something beneficial out of my degree. Yes. I just got a new job. I know a number of planets aligned at the right time for me to find one so quickly, but I also know my degree helped.

    As for your comment about students doing due diligence, that’s not something a young person is supposed to do. They’re supposed to dream. Doing due diligence on education would be like doing due diligence on marriage: "In thirty years that man will have a beer gut and be bald, so I’m not sure it’s really worth it."

  65. 65

    My favorite nugget from the linked piece:

    As Dr. Derman put it in his book “My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance,” “In physics there may one day be a Theory of Everything; in finance and the social sciences, you’re lucky if there is a useable theory of anything.”

    (my emphasis added)

  66. 66
    anonevent says:

    @Brick Oven Bill: If Joe is making that much it’s because he’s doing a fantastic job of milking the Republicans who so desperately want to believe that the unfolding catastrophe is not their fault

  67. 67
    Betsy says:

    @Sister Machine Gun of Mild Harmony: Actually, most programs do not provide prospective students with information about rates of t-t hiring for their graduates. So there’s not many ways to do the "most basic due diligence" unless you have family members in the biz, which most of us don’t.

    And everyone, as aimai pointed out, has reasons they think it will work out for them. For me, once I was in the program, I thought, well, sure, it’s tough out there, but at least I’m getting my PhD from fancypants university, with Famous* Person as my advisor. That means my odds are much better than most people’s!

    While that reasoning is not crazy, it also won’t guarantee me a job. But at this point, I have one year to go on the PhD, so it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to stop now, does it?

    *Famous = if you’re a historian of one or two fields you know who she is; otherwise you’ve never heard of her except maybe once on NPR.

  68. 68
    Betsy says:

    @anonevent: Congratulations! That is wonderful.

  69. 69
    ColoRambler says:

    I was a chemistry Ph. D. from 1992 to 1997. Even just in those 5 years I could see academia go from "too much time writing grant proposals" to "way too much time writing grant proposals".

    Do the math. You have a PhD/faculty ratio of about 5:1 at most institutions. A PhD takes 7 years to complete on average, so for each faculty position, they are turning out a replacement for themselves about every 17 months. Most tenured faculty stay in their positions for about 30 years, so over their career, they’re turning out about 21 replacements for that one job that they’ll open up when they retire.

    And I did the math; at least there’s significant private-sector employment for chemists. I stopped considering academia when I started a post-doc (no, they’re not just for prospective academics). For various other reasons I stopped considering chemistry midway through said post-doc. Sometimes I miss the intense intellectual atmosphere of the lab, but I am very glad I don’t have to deal with all the nonsense academics have to put up with these days.

  70. 70
    jibeaux says:

    Personally, I think "live to work" is overrated and a lot of people should move towards "work to live". It’s cynical, pragmatic, sure, but not everyone can get their dream job and I expect it’s better to take your non-dream job before you get the 6 figure debt than after. There can be small satisfactions in jobs well done, even if it’s not your ideal job.
    I never found any real satisfaction to come out of work, anyway, not compared with the satisfaction of sleeping in on Saturday morning next to a grinning dimpled three year old telling you she loves you, and then jumping on you.

  71. 71
    scav says:

    Where and when did this mythic environment take such hold?

    Academe is the real world, it’s just that it’s sometimes called "tenure" instead of "nepotism" and since when has the holy, only, best and highest use of a ThuD been to churn out more?

    Sometimes I swear the major problem with grad programs is that they are far too full of people presuming that silly paper transforms them into really important people with a fast track to the gravy train instead of people that actually enjoy thinking. What’s wrong with a really long apprenticeship at diving into unstructured problems?

  72. 72

    The reason Joe’s image is often in the left column of Balloon Juice is because he influences you. John has highlighted Joe’s reporting, and you have read it. Remember the one he wrote about pizza in Israel? Just wait until Joe gets his beer contract. This will be a seven-figure deal. Joe is a better reporter than Geraldo, and Geraldo has a helicopter.

    Joe does not dream, he sees, anonevent.

  73. 73
    Walker says:

    What’s wrong with a really long apprenticeship at diving into unstructured problems?

    If you can get a job that uses this training (in academia, industry, non-profit, or whatever), nothing. The problem is when you get all this training and have to omit it from your resume for the fear of being overqualified.

  74. 74
    Xenos says:

    Amai , Betsy, Sister – While there is always an oversupply, the cultural model for Grad student prospects was the late 60s and early 70s, when there was a massive expansion of the University Systems. In the 1990s, as an Anthro Grad student, most of my professors were generationally from that very first tranche of the baby boomers that had such an open field of opportunities in so many professional fields. Now that some of that generation is approaching retirement, they are not being replaced with many new tenure track jobs.

    I was never an especially brilliant grad student, but I had friends who were astonishingly smart who struggled to find career paths. All the while the departments were full of tenured people in the late 40s, who are still there today, and will be there still in 20 years. Watching post-docs suck up to profs who got their jobs at top departments as abds was just appalling. It is like two generations of Ph.D.s are being shunted aside as surplus labor, just redundant, thank you.

  75. 75
    Keith says:

    For a mind-numbing read, head this way for a HI-LARIOUS post and comment thread about the latest meme: the ‘hero’ photograph from the stem cell signing.
    My favorite comment (paraphrased): "More people aren’t photographers than are, and reality is perception (NOT A PARAPHRASE), therefore the ‘hero’ photograph is evidence that the press in in the tank for Obama."
    My 2nd favorite (paraphrased again): "You got the definition of ‘hero photograph’ from Google/Yahoo Answers, therefore your entire point is invalid."

  76. 76
    Xenos says:

    BOB – The sun is not over the yard-arm yet, Go take a nap.

  77. 77
    Les Miserable Fulcanelli says:

    @anonevent: Touché. BOB, better step away from this one…

  78. 78
    Betsy says:

    Sometimes I swear the major problem with grad programs is that they are far too full of people presuming that silly paper transforms them into really important people with a fast track to the gravy train instead of people that actually enjoy thinking.

    LOL
    The idea that anyone on earth thinks that grad students regard a PhD as a "fast track to the gravy train" had me wiping tears of laughter. It’s like when that debate moderator in a college town posited a professor making $200,000 a year and everyone in the room burst out laughing. I don’t know what this "gravy train" is that you’re thinking of, but unless you’re a superstar, it ain’t in academia.

    Whew. Anyway.

    What’s wrong with a really long apprenticeship at diving into unstructured problems?

    There’s nothing wrong with it if you’re independently wealthy. Otherwise, it’s important for most of us to be able to land jobs that pay reasonable salaries and have benefits. Had we realized that 7 years of work would leave us LESS employable than we were before we started, many would not have taken this route.

    I can’t say for sure whether I would or not – I love my topic, I love teaching, and even with all the bullshit, I like the academic life a lot. But the thought of ending up thirty without a job is pretty awful.

  79. 79

    It pleases me to no end that Joe The Plumber is probably pulling in $20,000 per speaking appearance and that Obama really is raising his taxes.

    I doubt it. He couldn’t get a dozen people to attend his latest book signing.

    His picture appears on the left side of this web site because the same geniuses who thought the American public hated checking their tire pressure and loved Sarah Palin blew a ton of money pushing a lousy product, and John Cole got to be one of the people who parted the fools from their money.

  80. 80
    Martin says:

    Academe is the real world, it’s just that it’s sometimes called "tenure" instead of "nepotism" and since when has the holy, only, best and highest use of a ThuD been to churn out more?

    It depends massively on discipline. There’s a rather high demand for engineering PhDs and they start in the $80-$100K range (B.Eng is good for $50K ± $10K). Certainly there is vastly more demand in industry than academia – so much so that finding good engineers to work in academia is a bit of a challenge in a normal economy.

  81. 81
  82. 82
    scav says:

    luckily, I consider any employer that fears to hire me because of some transcendental over-qualification conferred by a scrap of paper an idiot that I wouldn’t care to work for. So we’re both happy. Basically, I don’t apply for jobs I’m not willing to do and if all-knowing management thinks it knows better, it’s their loss.

  83. 83
    Barry says:

    John Cole: "The SSC only cost a couple of billion, and by comparison, seems pretty cheap."

    John, the blame on physicists and mathematicians is purely a lie by the guys who ran us into this hole (and were paid tens of $millions/year for ‘productivity’).

    You don’t survive 25 years on Wall St by believing some outsider’s oversimplified model, any more than you believe some fresh-from-b-school newbie’s scheme.

    The end reason for this mess is that a lot of elite guys could scam the bubble all of the way up, making loads of money, and didn’t see any downside – for themselves; the suckers would eat it, as usual.

  84. 84

    OTOH, the cancellation of the SCSC also contributed to the development of the XBox.

  85. 85
    geg6 says:

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned or linked this yet, but I just had to post this:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21.....0#29613260

    Now, I don’t know if Joey the Scar has ever watched TDS. Based on this, I doubt it. Regardless, little Joey Who Had Dead Women in His Congressional Office is a tool of the first degree anyway. But this is the second morning show Cramer was on this morning, snippily and snottily saying that Stewart is "just a comedian" and saying that he, Jim Cramer, is the defender of the little guy and a prince among men. Or something. But whatever he is, he is definitely always right and always gives good advice and never games the system, unless it benefits children and orphans. Here’s his other whinefest from the Today Show:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....73450.html

    This whole Wall Street debacle has just proven to me that what I always suspected was true every since my college days in classes with too many engineering, finance, and computer science majors. They know nothing and act as if they know everything. Math-based majors attract some of the stupidest, most arrogantly blind people on earth.

    My apologies to all the math-based majors on this site. But having been looked down upon as a gigantic loser by these people all my life for choosing a social science as a college major, I’m finding this bit of come-down-to-earth hilarious. And since my career since college has actually put me into a position with a front row seat in the world of finance, credit, and investment, I have to laugh even harder because I called this economic debacle about 2 years ago at a university-wide finance meeting and was condescendingly informed that, unlike them with all their mathmatical genius, I didn’t understand the markets what with my political science and education degrees and all.

    I know. It’s not really funny and I’m not smarter than anyone. But neither are they and it’s been quite entertaining watching them realize that.

  86. 86
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @Brick Oven Bill:

    Who has paid Samuel Wurzelbacher $20,000 in speaking fees?

    What are the squirrels doing in your backyard today?

  87. 87
    Keith says:

    OTOH, the cancellation of the SCSC also contributed to the development of the XBox.

    It also contributed to the release of Jurassic Park: Trespasser. A terrible game, but IMO that was due to its being WAY ahead of its time (real-time physics that influenced sound generation, tree generation, and some hella-ambitious artificial intelligence…stuff that current-gen consoles are finally doing)

  88. 88
    John PM says:

    @Xenos: #63

    The problem with those jobs is that they were never $160,000 jobs. They just two $80,000 jobs given to one person

    I would go even further and say that these are actually four $40,000 jobs given to one person. There is no need for a law degree to be a "graduate" degree. You learn nothing in law school that you could not learn as an undergrad. Law school itself should be done away with. Undergrads could decide to major in law in college (rather than pre-law) and finish the degree by the time they are 22. No one would be forced to incur three extra years of debt. This would also allow more people to enter public service law or government law, which are typically understaffed because people coming out of law school cannot afford to stay long in jobs that pay $50,000 per year.

  89. 89
    Mike in NC says:

    @ B.O.B.

    Joe is a better reporter dickhead than Geraldo, and Geraldo has a helicopter giant mustache.

    Joe really envies that facial hair.

  90. 90
    Sister Machine Gun of Mild Harmony says:

    Lots of people see disaster in the making and think "I’ll be the lucky one." Its human nature.

    Yes. Speculators who end up going into debt for their mistakes.

    Betsy et al,

    Don’t be ridiculous. You can go to the library or Google to start looking up the jobs that use your degree BEFORE you enter a program. I did. Doing otherwise would have been irresponsible to me. Because I actually did my due diligence, I ended up with a job before I had even finished my master’s thesis. I checked into the Phd option, and it looked worse from a job perspective than the MS.

    Now I can understand getting a degree because you want it, whether or not you end up getting a job in the field. That is a different issue.

    Sometimes it is true that people give you the wrong advice about ‘pursuing your bliss’ and all that nonsense. However, that still doesn’t explain Phd’s in the humanities. I can not believe that a person could get all the way to their Phd without at least a half a dozen people asking them what they are actually going to do with that degree and shouldn’t they pursue something more useful. I think students in those fields only listen to the bad advice.

    By the way, if the only answer you can come up with when people ask you what you are going to do with your degree is ‘teach’, then you are in the wrong field. You can go to a state school, teach High School, have the pick of where you are going to live, and be out of debt and saving for your retirement YEARS before you get that Phd.

  91. 91
    Corner Stone says:

    @DecidedFenceSitter

    But as a MBA concentrating in project management (Mostly organizational theory and transformation) and information security

    Color me intrigued. Would it be inappropriate to ask what university or other program?

  92. 92
    Walker says:

    You learn nothing in law school that you could not learn as an undergrad. Law school itself should be done away with. Undergrads could decide to major in law in college (rather than pre-law) and finish the degree by the time they are 22. No one would be forced to incur three extra years of debt.

    They do this for both law and medicine in New Zealand. And having worked briefly at a university in New Zealand, I can tell you exactly what will happen if we do this.

    Almost every single liberal arts college outside of the top 15 or so will die.

    Liberal arts colleges live off of pre-law and pre-med students. To get rid of them would be a massive restructuring of US education. Who else would be left to get a liberal arts education? The wealthy, who do it for the connections. People interested in going on to an MBA (though there is a push to make that undergraduate as well). And people interested in going on to PhD programs (see the rest of this thread).

    This level of change would force many, many schools to close. I actually believe this is going to happen anyway, but doing this in one fell swoop will accelerate the process.

  93. 93
    WyldPirate says:

    Most graduate schools are simply a big scam, to attract intelligent, motivated individuals to tackle difficult practical and intellectual problems. On top of that, the postdoc system has made it even worse as both the grad students and post docs end up doing all of the grunt work (and make a substantial numbers of breakthroughs) while their prof is busy writing grants, attending meetings, etc.

    We have no real shortage of math and science doctorates in the US. Growth of American applicants has been relatively flat in the STEM disciplines since the late 60’s-early ’70s. Most of the growth in STEM doctoral students and post docs has been in foreign nationals. The question is why?

    The why is the easy answer. You spend six-seven years as a slave in which you can barely subsist. Then you get the grand reward of a postdoc or two in which you make the wages your peers were making when they got a BS.

    At this point, your 200K in earnings behind your undergrad classmates at a minimum. Then, if your really lucky, you can compete with 100+ other folks for a 60K/year tenure track gig in which there is a good chance you can get your ass kicked to the curb after 5 years.

    THis is why you don’t see many US-born students going into grad schools in the sciences. It’s a tough as hell, low-paying, low-reward gig with zero security.

    It’s amazing grad schools talk anyone into a program. If it weren’t for the fact that some people fall in love with learning and asking questions, they would probably get far fewer.

  94. 94
    Brachiator says:

    Along with the great Wired article about flawed financial models, I would also strongly recommend the March 9 Fresh Air interview of Congressional Oversight Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren. Warren clearly lays out the problems with the first financial bailout (Treasury Secretary Paulson failed to provide for any monitoring of funds expended), and notes cautions for the future. You can link to the program here.

    Also recommended is the 89.3 AirTalk interview with local economist Christopher Thornberg, one of the few to consistently warn that the housing bubble would pop, and pop bad.

    He is especially good here at brushing aside some of the more foolish attempts to shift blame for the economy from Dubya to Obama.

    President Obama has a lot of things to worry about related to the economy, but should the stock market’s gyrations be one of them? Larry’s guests debate the importance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a driver or indicator of the country’s overall economic health. Guests include Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal and Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics.

  95. 95
    terry chay says:

    My advisor is quoted in the article (Nigel Goldenfeld). Half of his students ended up quants on Wall Street for obvious reasons. It is not true that the SSC directly affected it.

    1) The SSC was canceled when I was in high school, the migration of physicists to "quants" didn’t heat up until well after I was in graduate school. There would have been ample time for people to switch and there are a lot of jobs—not just finance—that need people with that level of mathematical background

    2) Physicists don’t have trouble finding jobs—other disciplines that isn’t the case. They have trouble finding jobs in physics. At my web startup, three of us have advanced degrees in Physics—the cofounders and me.

    3) SSC employment was in the field of high energy experimental physics, most quants were drawn from the theoretical condensed matter physics. Two completely different field. (I was trained as a theoretical high energy physicist as an undergrad and switched to condensed matter physics in graduate school. My Alma Mater doesn’t even acknowledge condensed matter physics as “physics”—it’s considered an applied science” there.

    Another general beef that is very important is that while the quants powered the crash , the vast majority are being scapegoated. By this I mean that the mathematics guiding this crash is far beyond most of the people trading these things. That isn’t meant to be haughty—just a fact. There are major flaws in the models (they’re models after all) and of those flaws, I’d say that about 20% of them were made by quants who forgot their basic math/science as it applies to the unscientific (practical/economic) world. The other 80% though were made by people who were not quants simply ignoring what they were told.

    That’s where the failure of communication that my advisor refers to came from. Many quants, adequately trained, knew the stuff was theoretical and full of holes, but they didn’t adequately convey it, or, when they did, they were ignored.

    I hope this helps.

  96. 96
    gopher2b says:

    @Walker:

    And this is a bad thing? I would have loved to finish up my schooling at 22 instead of being forced to fork over $150k for 2 semesters (tops) worth of education to enter profession where you have zero idea what you are doing when you start. I have always thought that what you need is one year of law classes and a year or two of forced apprenticeship (like the good old days) where your "mentors" actually have to train you (something akin to medical residency). Everyone in the legal field would be far better off (including clients).

  97. 97
    Walker says:

    @gopher2b:

    And this is a bad thing?

    It is a bad thing because of the market dislocations if a lot of universities go out of business at once. As we have been seeing, what is bad for the economy is bad for all of us.

    It is much better for this to be gradual. Hence the honors programs that are combined undergraduate/med school (6 years total). As these become more popular, schools will shift accordingly.

  98. 98
    Xenos says:

    @John PM:

    Undergrads could decide to major in law in college (rather than pre-law) and finish the degree by the time they are 22.

    The ABA is the only reason what you suggest is impossible. Between the ABA, the AMA, and Harvard Business School, this country is fucked. Maybe the AICPA can be reformed and made useful – the rest need to be put out of business.

  99. 99
    Betsy says:

    @Sister Machine Gun of Mild Harmony:
    The issue wasn’t which jobs used my degree. I knew that I wanted to be a college professor. The issue was being misled about how hard such positions were to get. How on earth was I to know not to trust faculty members who said that getting a job wouldn’t be a problem, given where I was? There WERE NO DATA on the employment prospects of the graduates of the department. All data I saw was nationwide, and didn’t distinguish between people who graduated from Yale and people who graduated from Podunk State.* I was told by many people that those rates didn’t apply to programs like mine. I did all the due diligence I knew how: I knew not to EVER enroll in a Ph.D. program that would make me pay to do so, rather than paying me (thus, no debt); I knew to work with the most famous people in the field, as they were the ones whose students would get hired; I knew to go to a Name university. Doing all of those things vastly improve my chances of getting the kind of job I want. But I didn’t understand that those chances would still be a lot lower than I thought. If that makes me "irresponsible," then the bar for responsibility is set pretty fucking high.

    And by the way, many of us have no interest in teaching high school. I certainly don’t. Designing and teaching your own courses (often based on your own interests and research) at the college level is quite a different beast; I think it would be much more challenging to teach at the high school level.

    *Note: I’m not suggesting that those people are less qualified; but as others have observed, there’s a strong prejudice against them in hiring.

  100. 100
    PhysicsFun says:

    Back when I was a grad student in physics, I performed experimental research at a facility that the government paid about 40 million dollars per year to operate. It was primarily pure science, related to particle physics, with very little expectation of producing significant immediate applications.

    For the people who worked there, it was like a giant adult playground – in the good sense. We could dream up these wild "games" (as in, "lets pretend these nuclei will interact only by isospin matrix elements"), test them out experimentally with some of the greatest "toys" (as in, "have you seen that new spectrometer Prof X is working with down on the HRS beamline – it’s boffo! I gotta get me some of that.") you could imagine, and then argue endlessly with each other about what it all meant and what game we should play next (as in, "neutron, neutron, who’s got the neutron"). It felt too good to be true, and in some ways it was.

    Eventually, one of my colleagues, puzzling over the "too good to be true" aspect of all this formulated a hypothesis that the real reason that the government was willing to spend money on the facility was to keep us out of trouble. His rationale ran something like this: the types of people who are likely to be engaged in working at a facility like this (physicists), if not employed in such enterprises are the types of people who are likely to make trouble for those in power, and further, they’re smart enough to make the trouble very serious. Forty million smackers to keep these folks wrapped up in stuff that, for the most part, kept them out of trouble was probably considered money very well spent.

    And now, it would seem, we have some evidence consistent with that hypothesis…

  101. 101
    Cat Lady says:

    @PhysicsFun:

    Can you please get all those potential troublemaking physicist guys back together again and use your powers for good? I’m recently unemployed and could use some hope.

  102. 102
    PhysicsFun says:

    @Cat Lady:
    A lot of them are thinking about and working in some fashion on energy related issues now. I think that’s "good" and I hope it’s some small consolation for you. Though the truth of the matter is that there are unlikely to be any big technological game changers coming down the pike soon – listen to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he’s one of ours. Really, we just need to use less.

  103. 103
    liberal says:

    @Martin:

    Do the math. You have a PhD/faculty ratio of about 5:1 at most institutions. A PhD takes 7 years to complete on average, so for each faculty position, they are turning out a replacement for themselves about every 17 months. Most tenured faculty stay in their positions for about 30 years, so over their career, they’re turning out about 21 replacements for that one job that they’ll open up when they retire.

    This is the key set of facts.

    It might have been different in the (late 1960s?) when they were creating entire state universities from scratch, but in the long run, the number of faculty members can’t really increase much fast than the general population.

  104. 104
    Cat Lady says:

    @PhysicsFun:

    I think everyone’s getting that now, at least the sane ones. I’m very happy about the pick of Chu. Geeks rule.

  105. 105
    bcw says:

    It’s not a question of higher mathematics; it’s "you get what you pay for – and you pay for what you get."

    If you set up the reward system so that all rewards are based on short term and risks are irrelevant you will get CEO’s and managers maximizing risk for probable profit. SImilarly, if you impose a system where mathematicians are paid to do Gaussian calculations that’s what you get. There were a few mathematicians who did do power series and other pessimistic probablistic distributions but if they did that kind of calculation very long they stopped being paid mathematicians. You don’t get bad news from research unless a company is willing to stand up for the bearer of bad news. And if you won’t do that you might as well hire prostitutes, at least you would have no illusions.

  106. 106
    Roger Moore says:

    @PhysicsFun:

    You’re definitely right about how great it is to work in a lab. I work in a different field (Analytical Biochemistry), but the feeling is the same. It’s very close to most people’s idea of a dream job. My employer buys big expensive toys and pays me to play with them. Who could pass that up?

    I think you have the argument about how this came to be backward, though. What really happened is that a bunch of lazy scientists wanted to figure out how to get Uncle Sam to pay for our fun and games. We made some crazy promises about basic research producing world-changing inventions, and the politicians bought it hook, line, and sinker. It’s probably even true, which means we can keep it up full time.

  107. 107
    DougJ says:

    @Rusty

    But even in mostly hostile territory, Coulter was no shrinking violet. When moderate Mark Halperin brought up Meghan McCain’s swipes of Coulter on The Daily Beast from earlier in the day…”

    I emailed Michael Calderone — he says it’s supposed to say *moderator*. It’s just a spelling error.

  108. 108
    Snethen says:

    increasingly sophisticated mathematical expertise

    I read an article along the same lines several months ago. Only rather than talking about the derth of mathematicians in physics, it discussed similar implications in science and medicine. Instead of being paid to come up with a cure for cancer, our great minds were creating complex financial instruments. For the last decade, Wall Street has been paying these guys better than Pfizer.

  109. 109
    mandarama, Eager Minion says:

    And by the way, many of us have no interest in teaching high school. I certainly don’t. Designing and teaching your own courses (often based on your own interests and research) at the college level is quite a different beast

    Thank you for this point, Betsy. I have a humanities Ph.D from a good school. I have no interest whatsoever in teaching at a high school–I like my young people to have the edge off, hormone-wise, and I like the freedom to design my own courses. More importantly, I like the level of discourse that being a professor offers.

    I guess you could call me a cautionary tale: I went to grad school because I flat-out love reading, learning, and teaching. But by the time I finished, I couldn’t do the traditional academic job search–and I knew the odds were bad anyway–because of family obligations that meant I couldn’t relocate. So I’m an adjunct…probably career-ended as someone said above…but I still get to talk about books for a living, and if that living goes away with this bad economy, I have a broad skill-set to use elsewhere. Non, je regrette rien.

  110. 110
    Janet Strange says:

    @mandarama, Eager Minion: My story is similar – no way to pursue the usual path after getting a Ph.D. due to obligations that left me geographically inflexible. I went to Big State U and had a TA, AI, or RA all the way through grad school, so not only no debt, but I was making money the whole time. Not much, but still.

    I ended up as an adjunct at a community college for six years, then got a full-time job there. I make more money than I ever thought I would (I grew up poor and never thought I’d be rich) with great benefits. And I purely love my job, every day. I teach biology to aspiring nurses and other health sciency types. They’re mostly mid-20’s to mid 30’s in age. They’re paying their own way. They’re serious, they study, they come to class. Plus, by helping people become nurses and such I feel like I am Doing My Part to Make the World a Better Place, which makes my little bleeding liberal heart glow.

    No way I could teach HS. I am in awe of HS teachers. They work twice as hard and have ten times the stress as I do. For less money. My Ph.D. was more than worth the five years I spent getting it.

  111. 111
    Comrade grumpy realist says:

    Hell, how many of us physicists hang around BJ? I’m another–doctorate from UIUC. Had Nigel Goldenfeld for at least one class if I remember correctly. (My thesis advisor was the lattice gauge guy.)

    And would people believe that there are still quant positions out there looking for people? Mainly in Europe.

    Face it–they’ll get rid of the CDO-squared stuff, but derivatives will never die. Puts and calls are just too useful.

    (I am so glad that Moody’s finally got cold feet after 3 interviews and did not hire me to put together CDOs.)

  112. 112
    Betsy says:

    @Janet Strange: That is awesome. I would be happy teaching at a community college. High school scares me, but I think that would be a fine job, and I’d be happy to have it. A wonderful old woman I knew years ago was (among many other things) a CC prof. She said it was the favorite place she’d ever worked, because everyone there was there because they wanted to be. And many of them were older, deeply committed, and with a lot of good life experience to bring to it.
    And I feel the same way about HS teachers. I admire the hell out of them (since several are good friends of mine, I hear first-hand some of the war stories), think they should be paid a lot more, but I don’t want to be them. I don’t think I’m tough enough.

  113. 113
    Betsy says:

    I also want to apologize for complaining too much. I do know how lucky I am, and I am happy doing what I do. I’ve just been feeling scared about what we’re going to do next year (and potentially the year after that, depending on our job searches). We’re trying to figure out health insurance, whether we’ll have to move to a smaller apartment, etc.

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